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The Air Force's 'Ultimate Battle Plane' Is Approaching Initial Operating Capability
The AC-130J Ghostrider, the next-generation gunship the Air Force once dubbed its “ultimate battle plane” and “a bomb truck with guns,” will be ready to rain hellfire down on unsuspecting enemies by the end of September, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command announced on Sept. 19.
“We are declaring IOC, Initial Operating Capability, this month on the AC-J,” AFSOC chief Lt. Gen Marshall Webb told reporters at the Air Force Association’s annual conference, per Military.com. “This is a fully configured gunship.”
The modified Lockheed C-130J, originally ordered as a replacement for the AC-130H Spectre, was built for aggressive close-air support, boasting a 30mm GAU-23/A autocannon and a suite of precision-guided munitions that include the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb and AGM-176 Griffin missile. The weapons systems are governed by modular Precision Strike Package (PSP), previously tested on AC-130W Stinger II aircraft starting in 2009, that includes advanced GPS guidance capabilities and brand-new fire control interface, according to Military.com.
But the crown jewel of the Ghostrider is the brutal 105mm M102 howitzer system, which can fire off 10 50-pound shells a minute with devastating accuracy. A confirmed addition to the Ghostrider in January 2015 after years of debate within AFSOC, the 105mm cannon seems like a no-brainer for the next-gen battlewagon: As one weapons system officer told Air Force Times in October 2016: "It's literally an artillery weapon that we decided to shoot down from the sky, instead of up from the ground."
Photo via DoDTech. Sgt. Jarred Huseman, left, and Tech. Sgt. Oscar Garcia, special missions aviators with the 1st Special Operations Group, Detachment 2, load a 105 mm cannon on an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, “Angry Annie,” during a training mission over Eglin Range, Fla., Jan. 23, 2017.
If AFSOC gets its way, the 105mm cannon won’t even be the Ghostrider’s most unusual big gun: As of April 2017, AFSOC was exploring experimenting with a directed-energy laser system designed to knock out enemy electronics and disable critical infrastructure. “Without the slightest bang, whoosh, thump, explosion, or even aircraft engine hum, [key targets] are permanently disabled,” Webb told National Defense magazine of the laser weapon’s potential function during CAS operations. “The enemy has no communications, no escape vehicle, no electrical power and no retaliatory [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability].”
With 10 Ghostriders in its current fleet, the Air Force plans on purchasing up to 37 total from Lockheed by fiscal year 2021. But despite its new IOC status, the aircraft won’t actually see combat downrange for several years, with full operational capacity by 2025 at the earliest.
Why not send the Ghostrider downrange immediately? Webb cited training delays wrought by the high operational tempo facing special operations forces in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria — an operational tempo that’s only likely to increase in the coming months. Indeed, Webb told reporters that AFSOC commandos have seen deployment rates beyond those previously experienced by the DoD, with some of the command’s 14,461 active-duty troops deploying more than a dozen times in their careers, per Air Force Times.
Photo illustration via AFSOC/DoDA photo illustration of a laser-eqipped AC-130 gunship in action
“The challenge that we have, it’s my problem, is how do we fight the current fight — we have gunships deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria — and use those same people to convert into a new weapon system,” Webb told reporters on Sept. 19. “We’re not going to have the luxury of doing what most normal units do.”
But once the timing is right, the Ghostrider is ready and able to do what it does best and rain total destruction down on America’s enemies. And despite the burdens placed on AFSOC by 16 years of non-stop war abroad, the Webb had a simple message regarding the command’s readiness: “We’re not waiting around.”
Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.
On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.
Fatal training accidents are on the rise. Now the families of the fallen are pushing lawmakers to do something about it
CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.
Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.
Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.
Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.
"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."
While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.
"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."
North Korea threatens to resume nuclear weapons and ICBM tests if US-South Korea military exercises proceed
SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.
Customs and Border Patrol denied a Marine vet entry into the US for his a scheduled citizenship interview
A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.
Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.
Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.